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Biden wins the South Carolina primary, hoping voters across the U.S. take note

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

President Joe Biden has won his party's first official primary contest. Here's DNC chair Jaime Harrison.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAIME HARRISON: South Carolina has once again given Joe Biden...

(CHEERING)

HARRISON: ...Its support in this primary election.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Four more years, four more years.

NADWORNY: Four years ago, South Carolina's voters were key to Biden ultimately securing the Democratic presidential nomination. Now, he and his allies hope yesterday's win will help send a message to voters across the country as the campaign looks to the general election. All Things Considered host Juana Summers is in Columbia, S.C., and she joins us now. Good morning, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey, Elissa.

NADWORNY: Biden's South Carolina win isn't exactly a surprise. So what was it like at the Democrats' gathering there last night?

SUMMERS: Yeah, Elissa, I mean, there was not a lot of drama last night. And I have to tell you, four years ago, I was in the state during the 2020 primary, and things felt totally different. This year, though, the primary was largely uncontested and most people were expecting President Biden to win. But even so, there was a lot of excitement, and party leaders had a message for the country. This is Christale Spain. She's the executive director of the state Democratic Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTALE SPAIN: This night is historic, and I've said it before - the South has something to say, and we said it.

NADWORNY: Black voters make up a significant portion of South Carolina's electorate, and they're crucial to Biden's reelection bid nationally. What did you hear from them?

SUMMERS: Yeah, Elissa, our All Things Considered team spent a couple days here in South Carolina talking to young Black voters in particular about how they felt about politics and the issues that matter to them right now. And I just want to introduce you to one of them. His name is Tarman-dre Robinson. He is 24 years old, served in the South Carolina National Guard, and he's now a student at a technical college here. And when I talked to him a couple days before the primary, he was still undecided. He told us he wasn't limiting himself to candidates from any specific party, but he did tell me that the biggest issues for him in this election were college affordability, universal health care, but also unity.

TARMAN-DRE ROBINSON: You know, am I looking at a person for their character? Does character truly change America, or does good policy change America? None of those questions are being answered. It's just choose me - no, choose me. So it's complicated.

SUMMERS: What we heard from Robinson was really echoed by some other voters that we met. There were people who expressed a distaste for the political climate. Some others told us that they wish that they had different options. And I should say, we also met some young Biden supporters at an event at South Carolina State University, which is a historically Black college in Orangeburg. The students that we talked to there had a lot of praise for some things in the Biden-Harris record, like increased funding for HBCUs and college affordability.

NADWORNY: You also spoke with longtime South Carolina representative Jim Clyburn there in Columbia. Tell us about that conversation then.

SUMMERS: Yeah. So we sat down with Congressman Clyburn before the results came in. And he made clear that he views this general election as a stark choice, if it is indeed a rematch, between President Biden and former President Donald Trump. And I asked him if that is the case, if the choice is so stark, why do some polls at this moment show such a tight race? And this is in part what he told me. And I'll just note here that the congressman is indeed a former history teacher.

JAMES CLYBURN: History is - should be instructive here. What happened in Germany in 1932? There are people who get conned out of their futures. And that's what happens to all the young people today. They're being conned out of their futures.

SUMMERS: He went on to tell us that he didn't quite understand why some people in this electorate prefer style over substance and loud noise, as he put it over, quiet diplomacy.

NADWORNY: Juana, what are you watching as Republicans there prepare to vote on February 24?

SUMMERS: This is Nikki Haley's home state. She's a former governor here, and she really wants a comeback. So the big question is whether she can get one. There hasn't been a ton of polling in the state, but what we've seen shows her trailing former President Trump, who won in Iowa and New Hampshire. Most elected officials here in the state, including the governor and both sitting senators, have endorsed Trump. But she has unveiled some new, sharper attacks on Trump and President Biden. And we're waiting to see if that's going to pay off.

NADWORNY: All right. NPR's All Things Considered host Juana Summers in Columbia, S.C. Thank you so much.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.